Ice hockey-U.S. upset by Slovakia in quarter-final shootout

BEIJING, Feb 16 (Reuters) – The United States suffered a shock 3-2 shootout loss to Slovakia in the quarter-finals of the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Games on Wednesday as their opponents set up a chance to claim the country’s first ever Olympic medal in the sport.

Peter Cehlarik clinched the victory as the only skater to score in the nail-biting shootout by beating U.S. netminder Strauss Mann after overtime ended with the game tied at 2-2.

“It’s tough, I felt pretty good in the shootout and felt good on that shot too. I felt I read it pretty well it just snuck under my blocker,” said Mann.

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“It’s a game of inches, I know everyone in our locker room gave it their all and props to them they battled hard and stuck with it,” he added.

After Cehlarik scored the U.S. had one last chance to extend the shootout but captain Andy Miele could not beat netminder Patrik Rybar and the Slovakia bench erupted in wild celebration.

Unbeaten in group play, the U.S. looked headed for the semi-finals in regulation, leading 2-1 until Slovakia pulled Rybar for an extra attacker and were rewarded with the equaliser by captain Marek Hrivik with 44 seconds left to force overtime.

The U.S. had cobbled together an Olympic squad from colleges plus minor and European leagues after the National Hockey League opted not to participate in Beijing after a surge in COVID-19 cases in locker rooms forced the postponement of over 100 games.

With the majority of the U.S. team still playing college hockey, they had the youngest roster but Slovakia featured the youngest player in 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky.

The teenager has underlined his status as a top pick in next year’s NHL draft, leading the Olympics scoring table with five.


If NHL scouts were not already impressed by Slafkovsky, he gave them more reason to get excited when he unloaded a missile from the slot that the U.S. netminder could only wave at as it landed in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute.

The speedy Americans answered with 46 seconds remaining in the first period, blitzing out of their own zone with Nick Abruzzese finishing off the rush with a nifty backhand between Rybar’s pads.

The U.S. recorded the only goal of a tight-checking second period when Sam Hentges was left unmarked on the Slovakia goalmouth, taking a feed from Nick Perbix before turning and swatting it by Rybar.

As one half of the former Czechoslovakia, Slovakia made several appearances on the Olympic podium and as an independent nation reached the semi-finals at the 2010 Vancouver Games but failed to medal, losing to Finland in the bronze match.

“It happened 12-years ago and now again I can’t wait to play in the semi-finals,” said Slafkovsky. “I was watching this but I was six-years old and had to go to school or kindergarten.

“It is amazing that this happening.”

Quarter-final action continues on Wednesday after defending champions the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) beat Denmmark 3-1. Canada, bronze medallists at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, will face off against Sweden after Finland meet Switzerland.

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Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Ken Ferris

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.






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